The Art of Mayordomía

By Quita Ortiz

Mayordomos play a legendary role in the acequia, displaying a distinguished knowledge of their acequia and its surrounding community. From the watershed that nurtures the course of the stream eventually reaching the acequia diversion, to the last property served by the acequia, it's often the mayordomo's mental map of his acequia's intricacies that surpass the community knowledge of most others on the acequia. The mayordomo works to ensure equitable water distribution among parciantes, and he makes himself available to address issues that come up throughout the irrigation season, as well as observing the activities of the surrounding environment during the off-season. It's a year-round commitment, often unpaid. Taken together, these attributes implore a great reverence to the mayordomo.

Yet nowadays many acequias have had to address the fact that many of them have aging mayordomos coupled with the lack of younger folks willing step up and fill that vital role for their community. The NMAA has many years of experience working with communities throughout New Mexico, and because the mayordomo has a special place in the acequia, NMAA believed it was vital to contribute resources to address this concern.

NMAA has been working on the Mayordomo Project since September of 2008. It's is a participatory community-based approach to addressing what the NMAA calls the "Mayordomo Crisis", referring to the decreasing amount of parciantes willing to serve as mayordomo. Through this effort, the NMAA has established a mentorship program that fosters the transmission of local knowledge to the next generation of mayordomos. Additionally, NMAA is developing educational materials to assist in the training process.

The project has evolved through its different stages of development, but has maintained its focus on the mentorship model. In its initial stages, the team interviewed a number of mayordomos in different communities throughout northern New Mexico, gathering valuable insight that guided the development of a mayordomía methodology. For the past couple of years, the project team has followed and documented the trials of Juanita Revak as she shadows her father, Gilbert Sandoval, a longtime mayordomo, to succeed him as the next mayordoma of their acequia.

Using footage gathered in the field, the team developed a short film for educational purposes, The Art of Mayordomía. It's in the final editing stages and will be available for viewing in the coming month. Early next year will mark the completion of a Mayordomo Handbook, which is an in-depth companion guide to the film, illustrating the method of mayordomía that was developed through the information we extracted from the mayordomo interviews.

Future steps include the replication of this model in other communities. We plan to solicit the participation of others who want to share their knowledge and take part in the mentorship process to pass on the tradition of mayordomía in their acequia community.

If you'd like more information about this project please contact Quita Ortiz at (505) 995-9644.